From October 10, 2014 to January 7, 2015, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presents ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s, the first large-scale survey in a United States museum dedicated to the history of the experimental German artists’ group Zero (1957–66) and ZERO, an international network of artists that shared the group’s aspiration to redefine and transform art in the aftermath of World War II. The exhibition features work by the three core members of Group Zero—Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, and Günther Uecker—and by more than 40 artists from 10 countries who comprised the larger ZERO network, including Dutch artists Armando, Jan Henderikse, herman de vries, Jan Schoonhoven and Henk Peeters.
These artists found common cause in the desire to use novel materials drawn from everyday life, nature, and technology and to develop innovative techniques and formats such as room-scaled installations, kinetic artworks, and live art actions. Focusing on the points of intersection, exchange, and collaboration that define the ZERO artists’ shared history, the exhibition is at once a snapshot of a specific group and a portrait of a generation. ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s celebrates the pioneering nature of ZERO art and the transnational vision advanced by this network of artists during a pivotal decade.
The exhibition is organized by Valerie Hillings, Curator and Manager, Curatorial Affairs, Abu Dhabi Project, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, with Edouard Derom, Curatorial Assistant, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
In 1957 Düsseldorf-based artists Heinz Mack and Otto Piene formed an artists’ group that they called Zero. The name, as Piene noted, was chosen to denote “pure possibilities for a new beginning as at the countdown when rockets take off―zero is the incommensurable zone in which the old state turns into the new.” Günther Uecker joined Group Zero in 1961, becoming its third member. In the late 1950s and ’60s, an era marked by increased optimism after World War II, Mack, Piene, and Uecker played a major role in reinvigorating the contemporary art scene in Germany. They also established connections with like-minded practitioners from Europe, Japan, and North and South America who aspired to develop a new and forward-looking vision for art. This larger network of artists emerged from their varied experiences of the war with a shared interest in exchanging ideas across borders and developing visual languages relevant to their own time. The dialogues and collaborations stemming from their impulse to connect proved instrumental in remapping the European art scene, activating Amsterdam, Antwerp, Düsseldorf, and Milan as avant-garde centers. For most of these artists, the engagement with the international ZERO network was one among many pursuits and affiliations. The term “network” is thus used to underscore connectivity without suggesting cohesiveness.
Filling the Guggenheim’s rotunda and an adjacent gallery, ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s explores the artworks, exhibitions, publications, and live events comprising the history of the ZERO network, as well as the artists’ common strategies and techniques. The presentation begins in the High Gallery with an examination of the 1959 Antwerp exhibition Vision in Motion–Motion in Vision, which was a critical moment of discovery for the ZERO artists. From there the show unfolds roughly chronologically and features over 180 works in a range of mediums—painting, sculpture, works on paper, installations, and archival materials that include publications and filmic documentation. Among the central themes explored are the development of new definitions of painting, including the monochrome, serial structures, and pictures made with fire and smoke; a focus on light, movement and space; the interrogation of the relationship between nature, technology, and humankind; an interest in viewer activation; and the production of live art actions, many of which were known as demonstrations.
ZERO artists emerged from their individual experiences of World War II determined to embrace a positive approach to both art and life. In their hands, such ostensibly destructive acts as burning, cutting, and nailing became creative ones.
ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s includes artworks by Arman, Armando, Bernard Aubertin, Agostino Bonalumi, Robert Breer, Pol Bury, Enrico Castellani, Gianni Colombo, Dadamaino, Paul De Vree, Piero Dorazio, Lucio Fontana, Hermann Goepfert, Gerhard von Graevenitz, Gotthard Graubner, Jan Henderikse, Paul Van Hoeydonck, Oskar Holweck, Yves Klein, Yayoi Kusama, Walter Leblanc, Francesco Lo Savio, Adolf Luther, Heinz Mack, Piero Manzoni, Almir Mavignier, Christian Megert, Henk Peeters, Otto Piene, Uli Pohl, George Rickey, Dieter Roth, Hans Salentin, Jan Schoonhoven, Jesús Rafael Soto, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, Günther Uecker, Jef Verheyen, and Nanda Vigo, and herman de vries.